When expectations aren’t met, it can be tough.
Elyria Catholic’s girls and Lorain’s boys basketball teams are dealing with that this week.
No more practices.
No state tournament.
No chance for a championship.
EC coach Eric Rothgery and Lorain coach John Rositano reflected on Saturday’s surprising end to their respective seasons.
Both had visions of getting back to Columbus and a shot at a state title.
There wasn’t much alike about the losses other than the disappointment that followed for both teams.
The Panthers had an 18-point lead disappear in the final 10 minutes or so against Chippewa in the Division III regional final at Cuyahoga Falls High School, while the Titans never could overcome a slow start against Olmsted Falls in a Division I district final at Elyria Catholic.
Chippewa, the team EC defeated for the regional championship a year ago, won 39-37. Lorain missed its first 15 shots, trailed 21-8 after a quarter and never led the Bulldogs in a 60-53 loss.
Of course, it’s not a given to get back to the state tournament. All kinds of things can happen along the way. It takes some luck and some good bounces to keep your hopes alive.
Chippewa is ranked sixth in the state, after all, and takes a 26-1 record into this week’s state semifinals. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, head to regionals with a 23-2 record and on a 14-game winning streak. Both are solid teams that know how to win.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people will look at defeat as a failure because we didn’t get back to state,” Rositano said. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is to get there in the first place. It takes breaks, it takes luck, it takes a lot of things and, unfortunately, it didn’t happen for us this year. We had the group to get there. It just didn’t happen.”
“It was the perfect storm of a number of things happening,” Rothgery said. “We needed to somehow stop the bleeding. We just couldn’t get that one shot to fall or that one thing to happen to stop the bleeding. It just kept going and kept going.
“Of course, you’d do stuff different but it is what it is. We just didn’t execute when we had to.”
Chippewa ran a zone press against EC and managed to clog the middle of the floor, enabling the Chips to trap the Panthers along the sideline where several passes got picked off. Uncharacteristically, the Panthers turned the ball over 16 times in the second half after committing only nine the first half.
Chippewa, after trailing 31-13 midway through the third quarter, outscored EC 26-6 from that point. It certainly didn’t help that Regan Schill, Elyria Catholic’s best defender and a good ballhandler, fouled out on a couple of close calls with nearly six minutes to play.
“Regan’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever coached,” Rothgery said. “Just hard-nosed. You put her on the 5-foot-4 point guard or you could put her on the 5-10 post and she’ll ‘D’ her up. When that went down, it kind of changed a lot of our match-ups.
“Even with the turnovers and the fouls (16 in the second half), if I have Regan on (Celina) Koncz, I think we still win.”
There were other factors Rothgery had to deal with. Abby Winnen, an inside force along with her twin sister Ally, was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and missed the game and the Panthers got in serious foul trouble almost from the start. Besides Schill, Ally was handcuffed with four fouls early in the second half and junior Kaylie Griffin, another starter, had to sit out much of the game in foul trouble.
All that experience on the bench didn’t help EC when Chippewa began to come back.
“Credit to them,” Rothgery said. “They put the pressure defense on and we felt like we were ready for it but we just didn’t execute when we had to. We prepared for it last year, we prepared for it this year. Last year, we didn’t really have any problems with it. When you look at the film, it was just a couple things that you should utilize that we didn’t quite get to. It’s high school basketball. Those are teenage kids out there and sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to.
“I felt like we were the better team but that’s not how it always goes.”
Off their aim
The perfect storm continued on into the night when Lorain tipped off against Falls. The Titans were coming off an impressive performance — even for them — when they scored the first 13 points against Avon and rolled to a 96-50 win.
If anyone thought the same things was going to happen Saturday, the Bulldogs had other ideas.
“(Olmsted Falls) played extremely well, that’s the first thing” Rositano said. “And the second thing, I mean we go 17-of-61 (28 percent). People don’t realize, we shot 41 percent for the year. We shoot the ball a lot — summer, spring and fall. That was one of our strengths the past two years. It was just one of those games and I felt as the game went on, we got a little — I don’t know if tense is the word but a little anxiety, frustrated. We never could get out of it.”
Who would have guessed the Titans, with Devon Grant, Taevon Pierre-Louis, Jordan Jackson, Deonte Benejan and Aaron Whitehead — all good shooters — would miss their first 15 shots? Benejan’s buzzer-beating layup to end the first quarter was Lorain’s first field goal.
“When you’re not making shots, everything else amplifies,” Rositano said. “It’s funny. Looking back at last year against Strongsville — the district finals — we’re down by a couple and (Jaiden) Sledge hit three big threes right in a row to got us over the hump and got us the win. Even in the regional tournament, we hit big shots at big times.
“We just couldn’t do it Saturday night.”
Fear of Falls
Rositano had to be leery of Falls. In the Lake Erie League, the Titans seldom play teams that like to control the basketball with passes and precise cuts to the basket the way the Bulldogs do, so their talent was usually enough.
But Olmsted Falls starts five seniors who have played together for a long time. And on defense, the Bulldogs were more than up to the task, even pressing the Titans at times.
Still, the numbers didn’t exactly point to a Falls upset.
“We get the stats and we turn them over 20 times,” Rositano said. “We hold them to four threes — which was our goal, to hold them under five. We shoot 85 percent from the foul line and we lose. Typically, when you win those three stats, usually you win the game, but when you shoot 17-of-61, good things don’t happen.
“What they do is the ball movement, the player movement, the cutting, the back swing — we haven’t seen that this year. That alone was very concerning for us.”
Even with all that, Lorain cut the lead to 51-49 thanks to an 11-0 run to end the third quarter and start the fourth. But Olmsted Falls didn’t crack. The Bulldogs answered with an eight-point run to secure the lead and the game.
Lorain also had another rally in the first half, cutting a 27-11 deficit to 32-27 at halftime.
“We were in the same position last year against Strongsville,” Rositano said. “Honestly, I thought we had them. We got a 10-0 run but, unfortunately, we were down 15 when we got a 10-0 run. It was one of those games where you wish you had a do-over but …”
More good than bad
Saying goodbye to their seniors is the toughest thing for both coaches. EC loses three-year point guard Faith Williams and Schill to graduation. Lorain says goodbye to starters Devon Grant, Taevon Pierre-Louis and Kam Davis, along with Luis Suarez.
EC has won 22 games in each of the past two seasons and with the Winnen twins and the Griffin sisters returning along with Emily Rapacz and Annika Bredel, the Panthers could make another run.
“They all become your kids,” Rothgery said. “Especially kids that are involved in it as long as them.”
Lorain brings back two starters in Benejan and Jackson but will certainly miss the leadership the seniors provided.
“I tell our guys — especially our seniors — you can’t let one game define what we’ve done the last two years. They won 45 games, got a trip to the state tournament, put together a 21-1 regular season. You can’t let this loss define what these seniors have done this past two years — actually three for a couple of them. The program is going to miss the four seniors — terrific kids.”